More than three decades after Bryant Street became the nation's first "bicycle boulevard," Palo Alto officials are preparing to extend the popular bike route to the southernmost reaches of the city.
Under a new proposal that the Planning and Transportation Commission reviewed and unanimously endorsed Wednesday night, a host of new traffic-calming measures would be installed between the bike boulevard's current terminus at East Meadow Drive and the Mountain View border.
The southern segment of Bryant (as well as other area streets that will be part of the new boulevard) will be equipped with bulb-outs, traffic circles, shared-lane markings and raised sidewalks. Stop signs will be removed at numerous intersections to facilitate a smoother ride for bicyclists. And new signs will be installed along the route to guide south-bound cyclists toward Redwood Circle, Carlson Court and other neighborhood streets before the boulevard terminates at San Antonio Road.
The result will be the biggest transformation of Palo Alto's signature bike boulevard since 1982, when Bryant Street received that designation.
Today, a bicycle boulevard is defined in the Comprehensive Plan as a "low volume through-street where bicycles have priority over automobiles, conflicts between bicycles and automobiles are minimized, and bicycle travel time is reduced by the removal of stop signs and other impediments to bicycle travel."
Joshuah Mello, the city's chief transportation official, said the objective is to improve the connection between north and south Palo Alto and create a new route for bicyclists en route to Cubberley Community Center, the San Antonio Caltrain station, and the new Google development called "The Rails," which is located in Mountain View across San Antonio.
"This is a pretty significant connection south from the existing Bryant Street bike program," Mello said.
The commission voted 6-0, with Eric Rosenblum absent, to support the proposed concept for the 1.3-mile route that includes Bryant Street and small portions of Redwood Circle, Carlson Court, Ely Place, Duncan Place, the crossing over Adobe Creek, Creekside Drive, Nelson Drive, Shasta Drive and MacKay Drive.
Improvements include a flashing beacon light at the East Meadow Drive intersection that would be activated by bicyclists; curb extensions and an intersection reduction at Redwood Circle; a new traffic circle at Redwood and Carlson Court; and an extended green light at the intersection of Carlson and Charleston Road.
Curb extension would be added to Duncan Place and Creekside Drive to create an easier pathway toward the Adobe Creek Bridge, which connects the two streets. Adobe Creek bridge would be made more visible to bicyclists through curb extensions at both streets.
The commission was generally supportive of the plan, though some members offered some concerns about particular elements of the plan.
Commissioner Asher Waldfogel said that, overall, he loves the concept, though he also wondered if the planners are trying to do too much in a part of the city not known for being particularly busy.
"This seems like a lot of engineering to separate cars and bicycles at this utilization rate," Waldfogel said.
Commissioner Przemek Gardias questioned the need to remove the stop signs, noting the movement elsewhere to allow the "Idaho stop," where bicyclists treat stop signs as yield signs. The rule, which is currently legal only in Idaho, has recently spurred debate among San Francisco's transportation efforts, with biking aficionados calling for the city to make the switch.
Gardias noted that by removing stop signs, the city isn't just providing a smooth ride for bicyclists but also allowing cars to go faster.
"Is it really worth the effort to remove the stop signs and then have the potential risk of cars not stopping where they should be stopping?" Gardias asked.
Mello assured him that the other road amenities including traffic circles and "impeller" devices (rectangular obstructions that function much like traffic circles) will be installed to ensure cars slow down, even without stop signs. For example, at the intersection of Carlson Court and Ely Place, the all-way stop would be removed and replaced with an impeller device and yield signs, along with wayfinding signs and sharrows markings.
"At every point we're recommending removing stop signs, we're recommending traffic calming traffic circle, impeller devices or curb extensions," Mello said. "We don't want to increase the motor vehicle speeds but we also don't want bicyclists stopping every couple of blocks."
The city's ultimate goal, Mello said, is to "get away from the stop-and-go movement to a more moderated flow of 15 to 20 mph."
"That's how we will design the corridor moving forward," Mello said.
The Bryant Street boulevard is one of about 20 bike projects included in the city's 2012 bike master plan. The City Council has budgeted $20 million for bike improvements in its 2014 infrastructure plan. It also has $11.6 million in a reserve for bicycle and pedestrian improvements, according to a report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment.